Biodegradable plastic bags: is bioplastic the alternative we are looking for?

Shopping bags made of bioplastics are now available in supermarkets as an alternative to common plastic bags. Is this really the ecological solution to our plastic problem?

More and more cities and even whole countries decide to ban plastic bags.

Instead, we can buy bags made of renewable resources. If the bags are made of maize starch instead of petroleum means exactly no noticeable change for the customer. Victory for convenience. Nevertheless, are these bags really better for our environment?



What is bioplastic?


Bioplastic does not have to be composed of mineral oil. If natural resources are used, starchy materials, such as maize or sugar, are processed to granulate and subsequently to bioplastic. I am no expert, so if you are interested in the production process here is a nice guide: in German and in English).



Petroleum in bioplastic.


Unfortunately, no unified definition of bioplastic or biodegradable plastic exists. This means that a small portion of renewable resources is sufficient to declare the product as β€œbio plastic”. Misleading for us and even worse for the environment as these materials cannot degrade. Even biodegradable plastic does not have to degrade completely, it only needs to degrade faster.

Big learning: biodegradable does not equal compostable!



Plant production: food or shopping bags?


Now, if we use the maize starch for our shopping bags, are we not taking away the raw material from us and our livestock?

The process is eco-friendlier through the usage of waste and by-products from the maize production. The competition between food and plastic production could be prevented with this switch.





A lot of time the plastic bag has only one way: from the supermarket to our homes. Once it has done its duty, carry stuff from A to B, we throw it away. It is simply absurd to promote single use of any product made of a material that should last forever.

For the purposes of sustainability, the same applies for biodegradable and compostable bags. The more often you reuse them, the better for the environment. That is the only way the production of any product makes any sense!

If you happen to come across one of these plastic bags, fold it and put it in your handbag or backpack. Next time you are at the supermarket you will not be at a loss.

Even better if you bring your own reusable shopping bag.





Ideally, bioplastic decomposes fully to compost. This does not happen as soon as the bioplastic includes mineral oil or the decomposition process is prevented by lack of air (typically on landfills).

You can put your bioplastic bags with your organic waste in your compost bin if it is the compostable kind. But be aware, most of the time you cannot dispose the bag via your municipal waste collection because the sorting plant cannot differentiate between plastic and bioplastic. In Vienna, these bags will end up in the incinerator and thermally β€œrecycled”.

Environmentally-friendly companies might have established a system where you can return your bioplastic bags and they recycle them properly to make new bags. Recycling in most waste recycling plants is not possible as bioplastic is classified plastic type number 7 (other) and cannot be mixed with other plastic types.





If you are looking for a company that produces compostable, useful and sustainable bioplastic bags, I can recommend NaKu. NaKu is an Austrian company that makes breathable bags that keep your produce fresh.

In full disclosure, I might be slightly biased as I worked for them, but I am still impressed by their bags made of European and GMO-free maize starch. The bags are good for carrying your produce home and keeping it fresh. You can wash them and reuse them over and over. If they are past their prime time, just toss them in your compost and they will decompose.





Bioplastic is not the ultimative ecological alternative, but if you have them at home: reuse, reuse, reuse.

Use reusable cloth bags, glass containers, stainless steel boxes or any other type of bag instead!



I would like to know what happens to the plastic bags everyone has still at home. What are you using them for? Β 


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